You’ve all heard the spiel before. Privacy is dead, the NSA is always watching us, and social marketers are greedily pawing at our information in hopes of extracting advertising insights. While I’m certain the Internet’s not quite as dire as everyone says it is (though privacy advocates have played a large part in that), it’s still remarkably difficult to truly disappear from the web. The old adage of “if you post it online, it’s there forever” is truer than you’d think. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at how difficult the process of a full disconnect actually is.
To be fair, the fact that the Internet plays a larger role in our life with each passing day doesn’t really help matters in this regard. It’s gotten to the point where we use the ‘net for just about everything, from shopping to communication to entertainment to business. Because of this, committing what’s known as “Internet Suicide” in some circles isn’t just extremely difficult, it’s also quite inadvisable in all but the most extreme circumstances, as doing so would cause you to effectively become a hermit.
Let’s say that, theoretically, you want to get off the Internet, and you want to take your personal information with you. Perhaps you’re dealing with a positively nasty stalker, or your reputation has been utterly destroyed, or you’ve been targeted by a raid.
What would be involved?
Step One: Cut Off Social Media
Social networks are all about bringing people together, enabling them to find and talk to one another online. As such, the first thing you’ll want to do if you’re cutting yourself off from the web is to delete your social media accounts. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google +, among many others. On the surface, the process is fairly straightforward, but there are a few factors which could complicate matters:
- Photos uploaded by friends and/or relatives on Facebook. Deleting your account won’t delete these pictures, you’ll simply be un-tagged. To remove them completely, you’ll need to use the Intellectual Property Flag or directly contact the person who uploaded them.
- Google + is tied to your entire Google account. If you want to remove your G + profile, you’ll need to delete everything, including Gmail, YouTube, and Calendars. While this might not seem like such a problem if you’re trying to vanish entirely, you’re still going to need your email for some time.
- Some social networks might not allow you to delete your account completely. In such cases, you may simply have to falsify all information related to you.
Step Two: Get Yourself Gone From Google Search
Next up, you’ll want to do a few cursory Google searches on yourself. Try to search any names, emails, nicknames, or aliases you’ve used in the past. Once you’re certain you’ve exhausted pretty much every search term related to yourself, contact Google directly to have the results removed. Unfortunately, this isn’t always going to work. A lot of the sites that are going to come up in Google’s results either won’t have enough personal information to justify their removal, or will belong to another webmaster (usually both). In such cases, you’ll need to move to the next step.
Step Three: Talk To Webmasters
Once you’ve removed all the information you possibly can by contacting Google, it’s time for you to do a bit of legwork. You’re going to need to contact the webmaster of each and every site which has published content which can be directly tied to you. There’s very little advice I can give you for this step, save that you should remain polite and civil in all your conversations, and be ready for at least a few of them to argue against removing your content. Also, patience is a virtue: getting content taken down in this fashion tends to take a while.
Step Four: Opt Out Of Online Databases
Moving right along, your next step is to have your information removed from online databases such as Spokeo, Intelius, and Zabasearch, and Pipl. Site such as these are very commonly used to run background checks on people online. These can be invaluable for determining if any of the stuff you’re trying to delete has slipped through the cracks, but so long as they still exist, you won’t be able to disappear. You’re going to need to contact each one of these websites individually to have yourself removed from their databases.
Alternatively, just use DeleteMe. For $99.00, they’ll do all the legwork for you, saving you a great deal of time (and likely several headaches).
Step Five: Unsubscribe, Unlink, Delete
Your next step is to clean out any accounts and subscriptions you may have maintained in the past. This includes mailing lists, MMORPGs, webforums, and services such as Netflix. If you want to make yourself completely untraceable, you’ll need to close down each and every account and cancel all your subscriptions. Unfortunately, the process for this is based on what websites and services you use, so I can’t really give you any advice on how to go about it.
Once all that’s done, delete your email address. You won’t be needing it anymore.
Step Six: Call Your Phone Company
Last, but certainly not least; some phone companies allow your name, number, and/or address to be listed in public directories, where they’re readily available online. Give your provider a call and request that your number be unlisted. Note that depending on who you’re with, this might require you to pay additional fees.
What Happens Next?
Unfortunately, even with all these exhaustive steps,there’s really no way of knowing if there isn’t still some data on you lurking in some dusty,rarely-trafficked corner of the web; anything from a photo to a few scraps of information to a forgotten account. Ultimately, then, it’s impossible to vanish entirely from the Internet, even with tools like the Web Suicide Machine. The best you can do is to make yourself extremely difficult to track down.
Keep that in mind when posting stuff in the future.